The Crescent Point Wickenheiser Centre (CPWC) is undergoing some significant changes this week as the community gets ready to host the 2014 SaskTel Tankard.
The biggest adjustment, of course, is taking place on the skating rink side of the facility as the arena is being transformed into four sheets of curling ice. Goodbye hockey, hello curling. For the next six days, the CPWC will be the exclusive site of curling action as the province’s top athletes gather for the Saskatchewan men’s championships (Jan. 29-Feb. 2). The rink conversion actually got underway last Thursday night – immediately following the Midget Badgers Southwest Hockey League game against the Gull Lake Greyhounds – as workers started dismantling Plexiglas and lifting the protective net that lines the skating rink surface. The first series of floods took place on Friday as icemakers, in effect, started the process of building a curling rink surface on top of the existing hockey ice. Fortunately, the project is in good hands. Jayson Braaten of Abbey and Darren Gress of Regina are serving as co-icemakers for the Tankard. Both men have years of experience working at provincial, national and international events. In fact, they are the only two icemakers in Saskatchewan certified by the Canadian Curling Association. Braaten and Gress arrived in Shaunavon on Friday to begin their ice-making odyssey. By Friday afternoon, Gress was taking measurements to check ice levels. “We want to see where the high and low spots are and then use the Zamboni to cut the high spots down,” said Gress, who works as the ice-maker at the Highland Curling Club in Regina. “The ice is usually not entirely level in a hockey rink, even when they say it is,” he added. “Because a Zamboni can cut off so much ice – just one extra half turn can make a big difference – it’s very hard to keep skating rink ice level.” Braaten and Gress say getting things level right from the start is one of the most important element to building good curling ice. On Saturday, after most of the high spots had been worked out, crews painted a white base that covered the entire rink, sealed it, and then started to map out the outside dimensions for each sheet by freezing strings of wool into the ice. The pins and hacks were the next order of business before the rings were cut and later painted, along with hog lines and sponsorship logos. Carpet and foam dividers were also added. Most of Sunday and Monday was spent flooding. Still, in total, Braaten and Gress estimate that their crew only added between a half and three-quarters of an inch to the existing hockey surface. “You don’t want to add any more ice than you have to,” explained Braaten. “It just means more work when you start cutting it out later.” Officials were to throw the first test rocks today (Tuesday) and the Shaunavon men’s curling league was scheduled to give the surface a test run Tuesday night during regular league play. A set of rocks – used for competitive events – were brought in for the Tankard. The rocks are owned by Braaten. The provincial curlers will get their own test of the ice on Wednesday morning with the first practice sessions. The local ice-making crew, meanwhile, will turn their attention away from building the ice to maintaining it. The team will be constantly assessing rink and ice conditions. “We’ll definitely be keeping a close eye on things,” said Gress. “Conditions can be affected by the size of the crowds and the size of the rink. Even a change of 0.1 degree Fahrenheit can change curling ice and one degree will definitely affect your ice.” The icemakers say it’s important to keep an eye on the ice at all times during the competition. To help them with that effort, a wireless ice monitor system was installed. Each sheet includes several sensors that provide data about ice and air temperature. The system, called Eye On The Ice, was invented by Hans Wuthrich, the head ice technician for the Canadian Curling Association. The process of maintaining perfect ice conditions is further complicated by the fact the crew is using a hockey ice plant system. The bigger and more powerful hockey units require some tweaking to maintain the subtle nuances of curling ice. However, Braaten and Gress weren’t anticipating any problems this week with the CPWC. “You don’t have the same challenges that you get in big arenas,” said Braaten. “We’ve been doing this for a long time and have been to a lot of CCA events. But you still have to be on your toes – you can lose your ice in a hurry.” Braaten and Gress say the objective of their team will be to create ice conditions – and maintain them for the entire week – that will produce about five feet of curl and travel from hog line to tee-line in 24.5 seconds. “Our goal is to create exactly the same kind of conditions that they will face at the Brier,” said Gress. “But I enjoy it – I like the challenge,” he continued. Gress has been working as an ice-maker for 30 years and has been involved in dozens of provincial and national level competitions. Gress, who typically works at two or three championship-level events each year, loves the challenge of the big competitions. He says the biggest hardship is actually faced by his club mates and co-workers back home in Regina who have to fill in during his absence. The Highland Curling Club has six sheets and about 1,000 members. The facility runs an average of about six draws every day. The club also hosts a busy schedule of bonspiels and championship events. Braaten and Gress will be assisted by a local team of volunteers that includes Kerry Kronberg, Barry Sonen, Barclay Meinert and current curling club ice-maker Kent Elmgren. Several other local curlers helped with the ice preparation over the weekend, including Bob Wilkins, Grant Selvig, Oren Scribner, Ian Morstad, Vince Stevenson, Ron Sonen, Ken Shaw and Greg Moffat. “As an ice-maker I’m interested in seeing how things are done for events like this,” said Elmgren.